The Trojan War in Ancient Art

The Trojan war was the climax of the Greek mythological tradition. There were no heroes after this war. While this cycle of myths produced the major works of Greek literature, the ILIAD and the ODYSSEY, these two Homeric poems tell only a portion of the story. Many of these events were also the subject of numerous dramas and literary works in antiquity and served as popular themes for artists, especially on Greek painted pottery. The interaction between ancient myth and ancient art is the subject of THE TROJAN WAR IN ANCIENT ART.

Woodford combines narrative and art to retell the story of the war in eight chronological chapters, beginning with the war’s mythological causes and the gathering of the Greek troops. The story continues with their journey to Troy and the story of the Greek hero Achilles and ends with the eventual fall of the city. Woodford’s plot summary is supplemented by frequent and extensive quotation from ancient literature and especially by 133 black-and-white illustrations of ancient artwork. Most of these represent details from Greek painted pottery, as well as Greek sculpture and Roman wall painting.

Woodford does not offer a comprehensive survey of ancient artwork about the Trojan war. Rather, she has selected illustrations which show how these myths were depicted visually. Sometimes artists stereotyped scenes to facilitate their recognition by viewers. Thus the combination of a fountain-house and a youth on horseback suggest the story of the Trojan youth Troilus, while an elderly male clinging to an altar identifies the death of Priam, king of Troy. Woodford also shows how the portrayal of familiar scenes can vary. Some ancient representations of the Judgment of Paris are serious while others are humorous. Sometimes artists emphasize violent aspects of the rape of Ganymede by the god Zeus disguised as an eagle; other times the emphasis is on the bird’s gentleness in carrying off the Trojan youth.

THE TROJAN WAR IN ANCIENT ART includes an appendix on the illustrations in historical perspective, a glossary of historical and mythological characters, a short bibliography, and an index.